Change vs Transformation

Last year, when I was looking for a job and had to think about my strengths and weaknesses, I started wondering whether I like/embrace change. After struggling for a few weeks, I decided that “I embrace change initiated by me, and I am averse to change initiated by others”. Averse is too strong of a work. Basically I do I adopt change willingly, but I do not jump into it as soon as it is announced.

Recently, I came across with a very interesting concept, that change and transformation are different things, which seem to explain my conclusion about my own posture on change.

Change can be planned or not, and not always requires active participation of the affected people. It has a low to moderate risk and most importantly, it has clear boundaries and is contained within one individual “process”/individual/initiative/topic. After change is accomplished, the new normal is very similar to the past. Hence, change is simple and conservative,

On the other hand, transformation is always planned and intentional, as it requires active adoption and participation by all people involved. It has a high degree of risk and is not defined in time or scope. Transformation works as a vision for the future that can be achieved by an iterative process of trial and error. After a transformation, the new normal does not resemble the past, making transformation profound and radical.

In the past, when asked to participate in transformation, I have assumed that 1) I am asked to participate in a (small) change, that has a clear plan that is not fully communicated, or 2) the people have no clue of what they are doing. It seems that the option number two not only is often the most common, it is also how it is supposed to be. In transformation, the magnitude of change is so high that often there is only a guideline of what is supposed to be achieved. Nevertheless, this is no excuse for not having proper communication throughout and help all the involved people understanding and dealing with what is asked from them.

“Rethinking flexibility at work” – comment on Adam Grant’s podcast

I was listening to this podcast while doing some hands on experiments at work and it resonated with me as it points to a few things I have been thinking lately.

First, lets start with clarifying that according to Adam Grant and the people he interviewed, there are three items of importance for well being at work. These are purpose, people and priorities.

Making sure that the team has purpose can be done in several ways. I would highlight making sure that the mission and values (i.e., company culture) are clear and the basis for interaction and decision making. Another way (mentioned in the podcast), which I would welcome dearly, is to give employees the possibility to allocate 10% of their working time to a personal project. For this to make sense to the employer, the “personal-project” cannot interfere with the regular work on company’s projects, and should have the potential of becoming of interest for the company. As crazy as this sounds, there are good examples of side projects that turned out of benefit for the company, such as “Gmail”. For these projects to be useful, people need to earn their manager’s trust before they can embark on a side quest. Also, they need to show commitment and to keep the information flow quite high with a dedicated sponsor and other team members that can establish connections needed to advance the project and help with decision making.

Priorities is also a great topic. On the podcast, it was mentioned that if there are multiple projects that need to be done and enough people with similar characteristics, asking people if they prefer a certain project over other is a great strategy. This flexibility could even be used as a reward to compensate for well delivered goals.
However, the example that really made me think, was that of creating three types of time: quiet time, collaborative time and off-time. Off-time is really the most basic: no work after “working hours”. As for quiet and collaborative time. This becomes complicated in big teams and with new remote-work and 4-day week policies.

Quite time is time dedicated to focused and creative work that should be done in isolation, whereas collaborative time includes meetings and creative time in group, with people who have different backgrounds and experiences.

Combining several things I have been reading and listening to, and without crediting the work, because I tend to remember ideas but not authors, a possible way to ensure a good separation between these two types of time would be by having dedicated days to be in person in the office, such as Tuesday to Thursday during which meetings are scheduled and creative-group work is also schedule. In person time helps with learning/mentoring, and specially with trust development, as mostly these are a product of interactions and we are still hard-wired for face to face interaction. Another good point of this podcast is that everyone needs some predictability and scheduled collaborative time does not kill the creativity that arises from spontaneous interactions. As a bonus, by allowing people to have quite time to advance their projects, it ensures that there is no need to abdicate from “off-time” and that people don’t feel the need to multitask in meetings.

If I think about my work habits. I am still trying to find what would be my preferred way of organising work. But all of this sounds incredible close to it.

The one that dances

I am the one who dances.

I have been interested in life sciences research since I have first seen movies about Ebola epidemics. I dreamt of being the one to be called and save the world. I grew up and aware of the difficulty behind saving the world. I haven’t quite given up yet. After doing my bachelor studies in Cellular and Molecular Biology, from FCT/UNL, I went on for a masters in Neuroscience. My stay in Rotterdam (Erasmus MC) made me realise people around the world are more similar than different. I also start taking what is good and I like from the places where I live and try to ignore what is missing. Since then I have also lived in the UK, where I worked in a pharmaceutical company. The shock of moving from academia to industry was only surpassed by the shock of moving back to academia. I have been doing my PhD in Immunology for two years now, studying Multiple Sclerosis in Zurich. I have deleted the genes coding for pattern recognition receptors from mice and now study the effect of this deletion in the onset of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (the mouse equivalent of MS).

The last two years have been a journey of discovery: a PhD project takes time to materialise, research is slow, life is stressful and results are often frustrating. We have a team of about 15 people, they are all working in slightly (or completely) different topics, I learn new thing everyday just by having coffee with my colleagues, and this really keeps me going. I have discovered I like the inter-phases: when talking with someone from a different area, we need to ask more questions, be more precise, adapt vocabulary, stop assuming everyone has the same level of understanding or access to the same information.